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Israel expecting thousands of Ethiopian immigrants after Israeli High Court removes hurdle for aliyah

Dramatic decision comes amid expected surge in Ukrainian and Russian aliyah as well

Members of the Ethiopian Falashmura community arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport, outside of Tel Aviv, Mar. 11, 2021. (Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Just as Israel is expecting to take in Ukrainian refugees – many of whom are eligible to make aliyah – the Jewish state is expecting thousands of Ethiopian immigrants as well in the near future, Israeli's Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata announced on Tuesday. 

The announcement follows a dramatic decision by the Israeli High Court to reject an appeal that blocked the Israeli government from airlifting Ethiopian Jews entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. 

In November 2021, the Israeli government approved a plan to accept some 9,000 first-degree relatives of Ethiopian Israelis. At the time, Mark Wilf, chairman of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America, welcomed the plan. 

However, the plan was considered controversial and the conservative Israeli Immigration Policy Center submitted an appeal to stop it, which was subsequently rejected by the High Court. 

“Today’s announcement is an exciting and important step to reunite families and strengthen the Jewish people,” he said.

The absorption minister, who is herself of Ethiopian descent, stressed the need to bring Ethiopians to the Jewish state. 

“These immigrants waited for no reason and were left separated from their families, their parents, their siblings, their children and more. The war in Ethiopia and the coronavirus pandemic made their situation worse and the time has come to bring them home to Israel,” Tamano-Shata stated

The arrival of more Jewish Ethiopian immigrants coincides with the arrival of Jewish and non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion. 

“All Israelis are brothers. As I promised, I will be a minister for everyone. I will fight to bring over Jews from Ukraine alongside immigration from Ethiopia and from anywhere in the Diaspora from which someone wants to immigrate to Israel,” she said. 

During a Cabinet meeting on Monday, Tamano-Shata hinted that racism was a factor in the decision process regarding who is allowed to immigrate to Israel. 

“This is the hypocrisy of white people. We must also work to advance the immigration of Jews from Ethiopia, who are also fleeing a war,” said Tamano-Shata. 

However, while some Ukrainian refugees have been allowed to stay in Israel, hundreds have already been deported from the country. 

There are approximately 160,000 Israelis of Ethiopian descent, representing around 2% of the total Israeli population. The majority of Ethiopians arrived in Israel during the 1980s and 1990s with the rescue missions Operation Moses and Joshua, as well as Operation Solomon. 

Due to discrimination and generally lower education levels, many the Ethiopian Israelis tend to belong to the lower socio-economic segments of Israeli society. However, in recent years, an increasing number of young Israeli-born Ethiopians have advanced in society including the current Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, the singer Ester Rada, the soccer player Eli Dasa and politicians Gabi Yevarkan and Shlomo Molla. 

Meanwhile, with Russia rapidly becoming an isolated pariah in the international community, many Russian Jews are also looking for possibilities to move abroad. While most Russian-speaking Jews currently live in Israel and the United States, Russia is still home to hundreds of thousands of Jews. 

While the Israeli government is currently focusing on immigrants from Ukraine, the Jewish state has so far granted some 1,400 entry visas to Russian nationals since Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, according to Nativ, an Israeli government agency responsible for immigration from the former Soviet republics. 

However, just like their Ukrainian counterparts, Russian immigrants are facing Israeli bureaucracy. 

“Russian citizens requesting to make aliyah at this time are not required to have apostille signature on their documents or bring a police certificate,” a Nativ spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 

The Jewish state currently faces the largest immigration wave since the end of the Cold war in the 1990s when over 1 million Soviet citizens immigrated to Israel. The Israeli Law of Return grants automatic Israeli citizenship to any immigrant who has at least one Jewish grandparent. However, the current immigration crisis is challenged by internal Israeli disagreements whether to accept a large number of non-Jewish refugees from the Ukraine war with no family connection to Israel. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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